Roundtable: 4th Annual IIHF Girls’ Hockey Weekend – Assessing the state of the game

Roundtables are an occasional feature on Hockey in Society. Roundtables will present brief commentaries from Hockey in Society contributors on pressing or timely issues within hockey and its culture, with the aim of presenting a diverse range of critical viewpoints on the topic under discussion.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is hosting its fourth annual Girls’ Hockey Weekend this weekend (which, coincides with the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child), a weekend designed to expose girls and women to *ahem* the greatest game on earth! ( I might be a little biased). The IIHF encourages teams, clubs, and organizations to find a way to draw more girls to the game whether it be through autograph sessions, practice sessions, or off-ice activities. You can check out the official (pink) website here: Girls’ Hockey Weekend. This is the first time that we at Hockey in Society have ever heard of the Girls’ Hockey Weekend, so we thought it would be appropriate to use the opportunity to offer an assessment on the current state of women’s hockey, both in Canada and globally.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 8.32.40 PMThere are two recent events that show promising signs for the growth of women’s hockey. First, is Sportsnet’s new agreement with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to broadcast the league’s playoff games from the Clarkson Cup and “at least one special event to be announced in early October.” This agreement is slated for the next four years and it has also earned the CWHL space on the website ( for game scores. The second exciting recent event for women’s hockey is that the Anaheim Ducks invited, US Olympic team member, Hillary Knight to skate in practice. This was the first time that a female non-goalie has ever practiced with an NHL team. However, despite these two newsworthy developments, it is still important to recognize that women’s hockey still has a long way to go. The Sportsnet agreement will show three playoff games. This is certainly better than nothing but it also doesn’t seem like a huge commitment on Sportsnet’s part. Also, this will be the first time that CWHL scores will be shown on the website. FIRST TIME! The fact that a national sportscaster has waited until 2014 to add “professional” women’s hockey scores on the ticker is less than exciting. And, I put the word professional in quotations because the women of the CWHL are unable to support themselves from their hockey careers and are forced to have other jobs. Plus, there this snappy list of “10 reasons why the NHL should commit to women’s pro hockey before expanding the men’s game (again)” floating around the Internet, which further highlights the gap between the men’s and women’s games. Moreover, Anaheim Ducks’ coach, Bruce Boudreau was apparently pleasantly surprised with Knight’s skill at practice because he has never seen a women’s hockey game live and didn’t realize that “they were that good”. I don’t know what is more sad: the fact that he has never felt it worth his time to watch women’s hockey, or that there has probably been few opportunities for him to take in a live game. Either way, I think Boudreau’s experience (as someone who lives the game) is telling.

One last example I will contribute to the discussion here is how Warrior (equipment company) fails to recognize women as either a valuable or viable market demographic and that they have faced zero consequences for their misogynistic stance. Warrior feels that it is unnecessary to serve the female demographic, which from a consumer standpoint isn’t that big a of a deal, but from a social perspective is reflective and reproductive of the lack of value afforded to women’s hockey. Lululemon has faced both social and financial backlash for not valuing any person that the company deems overweight but they essentially continue business as normal because, while consumers don’t appreciate size discrimination, the stigmatization of obesity remains a prevalent ideology. Similarly, I think that many people may think even though Warrior’s stance on female consumers is rude and outdated, it is situated as poor business practice rather than a reproduction of unequal power relations that manifest beyond the store shelves. Unless an NHL player publicly chastises Warrior and drops them as a sponsor, very little will happen. Even then, they might not give a flying #uck. And as long as companies such as Warrior are not forced to change their ways, or collapse entirely, their very existence affirms the notion that women’s hockey is of little value. While it is exciting to see initiatives such as the Girls’ Hockey Weekend and players like Knight skating with the big boys, we still have a long way to go. Should we find it encouraging or discouraging to know that most other women’s sports are in the exact same fight?

Danielle DiCarlo – “The CWHL: An elite part-time job”

Although there is evidence of greater gender equity in sport, and for the purposes of this blog post, hockey, many scholars and non-academics alike will argue, for the most part, sport remains a male preserve in which the majority of rewards and opportunities go to men. For example, it wasn’t too long ago (March 2009) when the Hockey Hall of Fame announced that they would be re-writing their by-laws in order to allow women to gain admission. Prior to this, both women and men were eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but there was no way to divide the women from the men when it came to the four Hall of Fame nominations. Following revisions of the by-laws, the Hall now recognizes the women separately from the men and provides them with two spots alongside the four sports for men (see Cox, 2009). Why did the inclusion of female athletes into the Hockey Hall of Fame take so long? I mean it only took about 50 years after the Hall’s inception to begin recognizing the talented female athletes who call hockey their game. After a quick search on the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website, it’s safe to say the Hall may be dropping the puck on their supposed YEARLY inclusion of two female inductees. Following Angela James’ and Cammie Granatos’ 2010 induction there has been only one other female inductee, Geraldine Heaney, in 2013. The ambiguous place of female athletes in the world of professional sport and their recognition as pro-athletes is all too familiar.

This brings me to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Created in May 2007, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is the hockey league for elite female hockey athletes. Despite being a professional league, the CWHL has had its problems; with little funding, and even fewer fans, the league remains, both materially and symbolically, inferior to anything NHL players would experience. Needless to say, there are promising signs for the growth of women’s professional hockey: 1) As mentioned in Courtney’s post, Sportsnet has reached an agreement with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) to broadcast its playoff games from the Clarkson Cup and one other event during the season (I won’t say too much about this here); and 2) Possible expansion of the league to the Mid-Western United States (last season the CWHL operated franchises in Montreal, Toronto, Brampton, Calgary and Boston). As Mike Burse explains in his article, CWHL Set to Expand in the United States to Minnesota, given the revenues the league brought in last year:

The CWHL is in a good position to add a franchise this coming year. They brought in $1.2 million in revenues last year, although most of that was via corporate sponsors in Canada. Putting another franchise in the United States will only help to bring in more corporate support from American sponsors.

Perhaps Burse is right in thinking that expanding the CWHL to parts of the United States would bring in more corporate sponsorship. I believe this will happen as well. I mean an expansion to the United States will bring in more interest south of the border which will directly relate to bringing more money to the CWHL. But, would this money translate to the CWHL paying its players? According to Burse:

The goal of CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress, as laid out during her interview with ESPNW, is to raise $3.2 million over the next 18 or so months. The thought is that amount would cover all expenses the league has and also allow them to pay players a salary of $15,000 per season. Still not at the level of a full-time salary but definitely a historical leap in the right direction.

Although I do agree that $15,000 is an achievement compared to being paid the big goose egg, I’m not sure I would characterize this as an historical leap. Women will still have to maintain full-time jobs (perhaps even multiple jobs) to support themselves and their families all the while attending hockey practices and games to compete at the professional level. My interview with a former CWHL athlete highlights this point:

So you can’t really compare it to the men’s because it’s definitely not like our living situation where it’s like hockey, hockey, hockey. Most girls are coming from work to practice so by the time you get to practice it’s, like, why am I here at 9:00 at night? But as far as it being competitive it’s definitely a really competitive league. Well it’s the only competitive league for women where all of the Olympians are on the team. I guess the only difference really is it’s not our job.

I doubt at $15,000 a year it will become their job.

So, what now? I don’t want to dismiss the above-noted recent events that will help grow and shed light on women’s professional hockey. I do believe a move to increase television coverage of women’s hockey, as highlighted by the Sportsnet agreement, and expanding the CWHL to more Canadian and American cities will be beneficial to the CWHL in growing their fan base and ultimately in generating much needed revenue for the league and its players. It will be interesting to follow these developments over the next few months. Indeed, the growing level of interest in the league is exciting. Let’s hope this translates to a league where players can earn a decent salary.

Danielle is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto where her research interests include sociocultural issues in sport and physical cultures. Her master’s thesis explored how female hockey athletes participating on male teams negotiated gender, sexuality and the body and during her PhD studies she has also explored race, the body and space in relation to hockey culture. Apart from her academic interest in hockey, she has been a hockey player for most of her life and is always looking to play some shinny.

Rachel Villari – “Hillary Knight: Boundary Pusher”

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 10.38.31 AM

Photo from ABC News.

Hilary Knight self-identifies as a woman who likes to push boundaries and live on the edge, two invigorating qualities I feel are necessary to pilot the steady increase in female hockey participation over the past decade or so.

The charismatic Wisconsin Badger has carved her way into hockey fan’s hearts with her NCAA title, two US Olympic silver medals, and as an ambassador to the women’s side of the rink, a barrier she’s still working on breaking down.

Knight skated with the likes of Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for 25 minutes at the beginning of an Anaheim Ducks official practice last Friday, October 3, participating in skating and passing drills, and then returned for the final 20 minutes of practice for shooting drills.

Along with practicing with the 2013-14 Western Conference champions, Knight also spent the weekend co-coaching the Lady Ducks, dropping the ceremonial puck at a Ducks preseason game, and hosting many of autograph sessions and meet-and-greets, all in the name of women’s hockey.

As exciting as the kickoff to the IIHF World Girl’s Ice Hockey Weekend was for advocates of a genderless rink, I implore you to consider how much more we need to grow the game.

“It’s great to do it once,” Knight told Jen Neale of Puck Daddy in a recent interview regarding her first NHL practice. “But I’m aspiring to do it more than once.”

Knight intends to continue to push the boundaries of the rink, and a good place to start might be with coach-for-a-day Bruce Boudreau. The Ducks head coach was “really pleasantly surprised” at Knights’ on-ice talent, even admitting to FOX Sports that he had never seen a women’s hockey game live.

Joining Knight as an ambassador for women’s hockey is fellow Team USA defenseman Anne Schleper, who will help conclude the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in skating with the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday, October 13, 2014. Read the Lightning’s press release here.

Rachel is a right-wing gone defenceman from Boston, Massachusetts, currently working toward her Master’s in Journalism at the University of British Columbia. Better skilled with a pen as opposed to a stick, Rachel specializes in sports writing and looks to inform and consistently remind the world of the importance of sport, especially those which are played on ice.

Zuzana Botikova – “All Male Hockey Republic?”

The official trailer of the 2011 IIHF World Championship begins with a dark shadow freezing over some of the famous Slovak tourist landmarks. After most of the country gets covered with ice (which is quite a paradoxical weather situation for a country in the mild climate zone, especially in May, when the Championships take place), a godlike voice announces to all the curious spectators that “the big game is coming to the Slovak republic – the Hockey Republic.” As someone, who comes from this self-declared “Hockey Republic”, I have to admit that ice hockey is definitely an important topic of public interest (sometimes even public hysteria). Moreover, social scientists from the Slovak Institute for Public Affairs found out that in 2012 the level of national pride among Slovak citizens rose from 49% to 60%, with one of the reasons being the 2nd place won by Slovakia at the Ice Hockey World Championship earlier that year. With ice hockey being such a strong national commodity in Slovakia, and now with the IIHF initiative of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, I have decided to find out more about the state of women’s ice hockey within the “Hockey Republic”.

First of all, I felt ashamed that despite being one of the 5 millions of dedicated Slovak ice hockey fans (that’s more or less the entire population of Slovakia), I didn’t know anything about women’s ice hockey right off top of my head; therefore I went to the webpage of the Slovak ice-hockey federation to find out more. This quick research brought me to a lot of dead ends, 404 errors, out-dated information and photos with quirky 90s hairstyles, nevertheless, it proved that despite all the communication odds, Slovakia has a women ice-hockey representation! I double checked this information on the IIHF website and from the few facts listed there, I have learned that in particular there are 511 registered women ice-hockey players in Slovakia. This number obviously isn’t impressive, but neither is the number of registered men players (2,122), especially if compared to other “hockey nations”.

But back to the women’s ice hockey… or not that much women’s, as some of the basic information about the women’s representational team is written in a masculine grammatical form, not feminine… oh, and by the term “basic” I mean “name, age, weight and height”.

If I were to derive any conclusions from my superficial research, the only obvious statement would be that women play a very small, if not to say absolutely non-existent role within Slovak ice hockey. However, with the nation declaring its affiliation to this sport in such a vivid manner, one has to look deeper into the phenomenon and look for other embodiments of women roles within this field.

To say the truth, the very first example that came to my mind when associating women with ice hockey was a documentary/reality show Golden Wives that aired on one of the commercial Slovak television channels in spring of 2014. It aimed to show the daily (and of course harmonious) lives of the wives of a few famous Slovak ice hockey players.

Well then, I guess it might take more World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekends before similar ignorant associations are changed. But is this kind of initiative all that IIHF can do about it?

Zuzana is from Slovakia and is a PhD student in sociology at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic – helping to reunite the former ice hockey empire of Czechoslovakia! Not only is she a big sports fan, but additionally her academic work focuses on the various identity processes that sport highlights within society.

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